My sidebar in Sunday’s Sunday Times elicited an e-mail from Outraged in Orania pointing out that there was no such place as Banghoek and I should get a grip and pay more attention as the place is called Banhoek. Oh dear.
Investment guru Adrian Vanderspuy was born on the farm Rainbow’s End in the Banghoek valley and he found his pot of gold on the neighbouring property, Oldenburg. Van now lives in Geneva and travels south four times a year like the narrator of TS Eliot’s Wasteland. “I’ve been an outsider looking into SA for over 40 years” he says “and now I take my wines and show the world what SA can do.”
The world agrees we’re first rate as Van’s wooded 2010 Chenin Blanc won gold at the International Wine Challenge in London earlier this month while his 2008 Shiraz won gold at the Syrah du Monde Competition in France. Made in an intense, almost liqueur New World fruit/Old World elegance style, it is a doppelgänger for the iconic Hill of Grace made by Stephen Henschke in the Eden Valley of South Australia.
For starters, the bottles look the same – both emo black with a quartered shield coat of arms and for both wines, a topographic vineyard feature is the secret of terroir. In the case of Oldenburg, there is a hill called “rondekop” (round head) in the middle of the farm up which Van walks in his beanie “through layers of air,” a bit like Kate Bush. Over in Oz, the antipodean Hill of Grace requires a healthy dose of imagination as it is a bit of a pancake. Van’s hill is 3-5° cooler than Stellenbosch in summer (thanks to catching the cooling breezes) and warmer in winter due to more sun which makes all the difference for reds.
Both farms were established by German settlers in their respective gardens of Eden and both sites produce Shiraz grapes with muscular, yet slippery tannins. Yet for me, the Oldenburg secret is not Shiraz but rather the 2008 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon, made by winemaker Simon Thompson, in a restrained sweetly fruited style in the pioneering perfumed mould of Etienne le Riche, the master of this expression in the Jonkershoek, a forgotten valley full of Afrikaans billionaires. Sans the mint of near neighbour Thelema and sans the tomato paste of the rest of Stellenbosch, in a word this wine is wonderful.
This is undoubtedly the most exciting Cabernet launched in the year to date by a rara avis indeed whose first act – “proprietor’s prerogative” laughs Si – was to grub up the old virused Sauvignon Blanc vineyards. “By the time we would be ready to launch, Sauvignon would be in oversupply” responds Van with the prolific plantings in Elgin in the back of his mind “and besides, Sauvignon Blanc is like sweets. As you get older and your palate matures, you just can’t eat them anymore.”
An acute opinion from someone living in the land of Lindt & Sprungli and other fine chocolates, but true. Could SA wine be about to leave its infancy and transition to the grown up world of fine wine? At the Concours de Sauvignon Competition held in Bordeaux earlier this month to judge 470 entries from around the world, SA was conspicuous by its absence. If SA wine is indeed transitioning from infantile Sauvignon to mature Merlot, Adrian’s investment in Oldenburg will surely shoot out the lights, as they say in investment circles.
When we lived on Boschendal, legend had it that it was called Banghoek in the early days of settlement by colonialists, Banghoek because of the presence of the Cape Mountain Lion which frightened up the horses pulling carriages over the pass. Makes a quaint story even if it is not true, which if course it is!